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Rick Rosato, Gilad Hekselman and Ari Hoenig

Matthew Kassel
Contributing Writer
matthew.kassel [at]
Photo by Anthony J. Branco

Here in Montreal, you can see a good jazz show on any night of the week. But if you’re a thrill-seeker—like me—you might feel discouraged that clubs like the Village Vanguard, Birdland, the Jazz Standard or the Blue Note, just don’t exist here.

I probably could have stopped with the Village Vanguard, but I hope you get my point. Sure, we have a great jazz festival, but its best performances usually take place in stately theaters, and cost a lot.

I’m not complaining. I’m sure jazz enthusiasts in Fargo, ND or Eugene, OR would be quick to tell me how lucky I am. But notice how all the clubs I mentioned above are in New York. Montreal certainly has its own viable, self-sustaining jazz scene, but when a good New York musician comes through, it’s a special occasion.

Montreal bassist Rick Rosato, who graduated from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music last year, has drawn in some formidable New York jazz musicians for his artist series at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill. It seems he made some lasting and worthwhile connections while in school.

The third and final installment of that series, billed the Rick Rosato Trio, included guitarist Gilad Hekselman (from Israel, living in New York) and drummer Ari Hoenig—two musicians with a shared recording and performing history.

In the first set of the night on Friday, November 19, it became clear that Mr. Hekselman and Mr. Hoenig would be shaping the songs’ dynamics, though Mr. Rosato was the titular leader. Their connection was the key to this band.

Mr. Rosato played lovely, delicate bass lines, which, in moments of a song’s tranquility, made you notice the true guiding spirit of his playing. But Mr. Hoenig most often shaped those moments of tranquility.

Offering whiffs of beats, tightly connected compartments of time, Mr. Hoenig was not just constructing rhythm. He was furnishing it, melodizing it—with well-placed hits on his high-tuned snare, loud clinks on the hi-hat—giving complexity a good reputation.

Mr. Hekselman, one of the best soloists I’ve seen in a while, was clearly willing to go along with Mr. Hoenig’s ideas, but it wasn’t one-way. In Mr. Rosato’s composition, “Migrations,” the guitarist played an extended, heroic solo—building line upon line, dipping in and out of crescendo—as Mr. Hoenig navigated its openings with forceful precision.

Mr. Hekselman’s warm, smooth guitar tone coupled with his sensitive touch makes him a remarkably tender player of ballads. In Mr. Hoenig’s ballad composition, “For Tracy,” the guitarist revealed his extensive knowledge of harmony, the echo of his chords insulating the jazz club, which was completely filled.

But that’s not surprising for a Friday night in Montreal. That same night in New York: Paul Motian Septet at the Village Vanguard; Phil Woods Quintet at Birdland; Danilo Perez Trio at the Jazz Standard; Paul Bley and Charlie Haden at the Blue Note. I bet those clubs were filled, too.

As I sat at the bar, waiting for the band to start, the club filling up, I talked with a local jazz guitarist happy to see Mr. Hekselman in town. Before me, a group of eight students sat at a table before the stage. I scanned the room and noticed a lot of young faces.

Looking across the bar, I made eye contact with a guy who looked to be my age, about twenty-two. We nodded to each other and each looked away. But there was something significant about that nod-- I realized how important it is to have peers.

For the first time in a while, I felt involved in a community, my excitement accepted. We are lucky to have Rick Rosato here in Montreal.

Matthew Kassel is a fourth-year at McGill University studying political science and Arabic. When he can, he writes--often about jazz. Find some of his work at